Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson’s audacious follow-up redefines the genre, and the form, once again
When Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse released five years ago, the animated epic didn’t just mark the big-screen arrival of Brooklyn’s Afro-Latino Spider-Man Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), but an entirely new way to tell superhero stories – and make animated movies. It only takes a glance at the slew of hyper-stylised 2D/3D hybrid films that have followed to see how Sony Pictures Animation’s big swing on Spidey changed the game overnight, reminding fans and filmmakers alike of the form’s unique potential. So how do you follow one of the greatest animated films of all time? Well, with one of the greatest sequels of all time, naturally.
And that’s exactly what Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is. Taking up the baton from Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman and running with it are new directors Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson. Working from a complex, comical, yet emotionally precise and impressively self-reflexive Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, and Dave Callaham script, they deliver a follow-up that is bigger, bolder, and more ambitious in every way than its predecessor. Into the Spider-Verse took animation to a whole new dimension. This one takes us to six (and then some).
The action here picks up on Earth-65, a beautiful, synaesthetic new dimension rendered in fluid watercolour, and the home of Gwen Stacy’s (Hailee Steinfeld) Ghost Spider. It’s been just over a year since Gwen and Miles’ first multiversal team-up, and here we find her in a world coloured both figuratively and literally by grief for her own Peter Parker, a heartfelt yearning to reunite with kindred spirit Miles, and the tension of trying to hide her secret identity from police chief father George (Shea Wigham).
When a multiversal anomaly appears in the form of supervillain the Vulture, a visual marvel (pun intended) seemingly torn from the pages of a DaVinci notebook, it’s not long before Oscar Isaac’s brooding Miguel O’Hara – Spider-Man 2099 – and Issa Rae’s ice-cool Spider-Woman show up on the scene. Reps of the mysterious Spider Society, the duo enlist Gwen’s help in finding Miles, who – along with absolutely-not-just-a-villain-of-the-week portal opening newcomer the Spot (Jason Schwartzman) – seem to have a vital part to play in saving the rapidly collapsing multiverse.
As this necessary-but-long preamble suggests, there is a lot happening in Across the Spider-Verse. And that’s before we even catch back up with Miles, who we find about a foot taller, an octave lower vocally, and struggling with being the one and only Spider-Man and the one and only Miles Morales. It’s a trope of the Spider-Man story as well known as the death of Uncle Ben: if things are going well for Peter Parker (or indeed Miles), then they can’t be for Spidey – and vice-versa. But, as Miles remarks early on, setting the tone for a film that goes on to challenge its own mythos in ways you simply cannot imagine, “Having a story at all seems gross.”
Yes, if the first Spider-Verse outing was all about teaching Miles what it takes to be Spider-Man, then this sequel is all about him learning what it takes to be himself – even if that means breaking from canonical expectation. In a film that deliciously doles out fan service, in-jokes, and comic book easter eggs at a rate of knots, the bold interrogation of the Spider-Man mythos that runs through this sequel does for Spidey what The Last Jedi did for Star Wars, carving out a new path for the franchise built on a genuine love for what’s gone before. This only differs in that it probably has just enough Spider-People – and non-People (“Peter Parkedcar”, anyone?) – to stave off the next great Twitter Civil War.
It seems redundant to call a follow-up to Into the Spider-Verse visually stunning at this point. But from Gwen’s watercolour world, to Miguel O’Hara’s Syd Mead-inspired Nueva York, to the Indian comic book inspired Mumbattan – home of newcomer Pavitr Prabhakar (Karan Soni) – and beyond, every frame of this film has been touched and shaped by the hands of over a thousand talented artists, each living their own indelible mark on this multiverse. This means that every anxiously pinched piece of cloth on a Spider-Suit, every cheeky Editor’s note, and each stunning master shot (see Miles and Gwen’s inspired Leap of Faith redux) services a cinematic canvas kinetically a-buzz with life, with character, with laser-focused yet utterly unconstrained artistic purpose.
Huge props, too, must be given to DJ/Composer extraordinaire Daniel Pemberton. Working opposite another wall-to-wall bangers filled soundtrack, Pemberton’s score is remarkable. From Gwen Stacy’s drum-solo opener, Pemberton oscillates through techno, acid-house, hip-hop, and apocalyptic synth soundscapes with ease, augmenting the animators' universe with memorable themes and moments of emotion that reach beyond that which images and words can convey. He also must surely be the first composer alive to have record-scratched a goose.
Suffice to say, Across the Spider-Verse is, in all its 140 minutes, a hell of a lot of movie. But it’s a movie that makes every moment matter. Building on what’s gone before, ripping up the rulebook once more, raising the bar for animation and storytelling all over again.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is released in UK cinemas on 2 June. A UK release date is yet to be announced.Where to watch